RV Road Trip: Part 2

Ok Part 1 was very detailed about our trip excursions, but I promise I’ll answer more of your RV questions at some point.

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park: After hours and hours of flat South Dakota, all of a sudden there is this amazing terrain. Deep cavernous rock, tall boulders. It really does feel like you are on a different planet. We parked at the Visitor Center, always with an eye out for “RV Parking,” and saw a park ranger in the parking lot with a huge skull in his truck. He told us it was a bison skull they found in the wilderness area and had to hike one mile back with it. It weighed around 100 pounds!

After some bathroom breaks and water refills, we grabbed a trail map and headed back to the main trails we wanted to hike. RV Bathroom Tip: we tried not to use it. We had to get gas every 4-5 hours anyway, so most of the time we used gas station bathrooms. We hoped to only dump the tank of the toilet once. So as much as possible we did not use the RV bathroom.

Notch Trail

At the Badlands we hiked the Door, Window and Notch trails, and a prairie dog town. The Notch trail was longer and required climbing up (and down!) this wooden ladder. The scenery was always amazing!

After hiking at the Badlands, we drove about an hour and parked at a truck stop near Mt. Rushmore. Sleeping at truck stops is hit or miss. Sometimes its calm and quiet. Other times it is loud and bright. This night was windy but we didn’t even realize that until the morning when we walked into the truck stop to use the bathroom and get breakfast, and the wind was blowing us sideways! I’m not going to lie, I was not excited about driving the RV through this wind, especially knowing we had some twisty mountain roads ahead. Thankfully we left early enough that the roads were pretty empty. Every time the wind blew me into another lane, no one else was around. Yes, the wind blew me into other lanes. I had such a tight grip on the steering wheel that my hands hurt when we arrived. I have never experienced wind like this before!

The wind was no joke.

Mt. Rushmore: The trails were closed at Mt. Rushmore because of recent snow and ice, but we were still able to walk past all the state flags on the paved path. We took the obligatory pictures, marveled at the stone carving, and headed to the gift shop. I asked the park ranger about driving routes to Custer State Park, our next destination. She informed me that the RV was too big for the route I intended to take, and also that part of the highway was closed down due to overturned semi-trucks who got blown over in the wind. Yikes! We found a route, made our purchases of National Parks patches and coins, and got on the road again.

Begging Burros

Custer State Park: Custer has a road that goes through and around the park called the Wildlife Loop. We drove half of that slowly, while checking out the bison, more prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, and the famous begging burros who come up to your car windows looking for food. We fed the burros slices of an apple and then supplemented with crackers to keep them around longer. We tried to alternate days in the trip with hiking and rest. So after hiking at Badlands, today was more restful driving through Custer. The kids loved seeing all the wildlife. Even though we saw hundreds of bison, it was still exciting to see more bison.

My husband is the photographer. Nothing gets in the way of a shot. Apparently the photogenic bison were on my side of the RV.
The Mammoth Site – how many mammoth bones can you find?

We detoured off the Wildlife Loop to check out Wind Cave National Park, which had just opened up their cave tours again, however we didn’t make it in time for that. We did a short hike on top of Wind Cave and read signs explaining the history. After a short time there, we ventured on to The Mammoth Site. Basically mammoth bones were discovered and a structure was built around it so visitors could see the mammoth bones in place. It is an active dig site and people were digging while we visited. Some bones they leave in place and others they take away for more research. They have found bones representing more than 60 mammoths! It was really a unique and amazing site to see.

Are you keeping track of all we did in just a few days? So far we are only two days into the trip and we have been to Badlands NP, Mt. Rushmore NP, Custer State Park, Wind Cave NP, and The Mammoth Site. Next up: back to Custer to climb a mountain!

Memorable Weddings #2

Since it is still our anniversary month, I’ll sneak in another memorable wedding post. If you missed my first one, go back and check out that story.

Jeff and I at the wedding

My cousin Erik was getting married in the summer of 2006. I drove from Wisconsin, picked up Jeff in the Chicago area (we were dating at the time) and we made our way to Ohio, where the bride was from, to join the rest of my family for the wedding. Erik and I are the same age and grew up together, and I became friends with his wife, so I had the honor of being a bridesmaid in the wedding. I think it was my third time being a bridesmaid in 2006 and each dress was a similar style but different color. Erik & Mandy’s summer wedding was a lovely yellow.

Family weddings out of town are always fun when you stay in the same hotel. My sister and I shared a room, while Jeff and my brother shared another room. Cousins, aunts and uncles, my parents, and my sister and her family were all there as well, so I’m sure we had late night talks in the hallways and laughed too loud for the people in the hotel not related to us. Sorry!

Jeff being a good boyfriend by holding my purse and saving some sodas for our drive home. I’m pretty sure my uncle told us to take them.

The rehearsal and rehearsal dinner went great. Everyone was having a wonderful time. Then the morning of the wedding came. The power in the hotel went out, which meant some people had trouble with their alarm clocks and were almost late to the wedding.

But the first issue I remember, is Erik knocking on my hotel room door asking if I have any CDs. Yes, this was way back when we had music on compact discs and not on our phones, or even easily accessible on the internet. The DJ and his wife had just divorced and the wife took all their music. Not only was this his first wedding since the divorce, but he didn’t have much music to play. Thankfully, since I had road tripped from Wisconsin, I had brought my entire CD collection. I wish I had a picture of this, but imagine the big black leather cases with pages of CDs inserted. I had 4 cases.

With the music issues mostly handled, I moved on through hair and makeup and I was ready and at the church. Now I have one thing I do in every wedding that I get to stand up in. I privately ask the bride and/or groom if they’re sure. I remember asking Erik, since he is my cousin, “Are you sure you want to marry Mandy?” He smiled and said he was positive. Then I asked Mandy. She looked at me like I was trying to break up the wedding. “Hey, I’m sure if you’re sure,” I told her. Mandy said she was positive she wanted to marry Erik. Great! Let’s get going.

Notice the seam popping open

The ceremony is a success and next we have pictures. I realize that my dress seems to have popped at the seam on the side. These bridesmaid dresses are always pretty but not the best quality. It wasn’t a hole all the way to my skin, but the seam popped enough that it was visible. I pulled the pin out of my flowers and used it to hold the dress together enough for pictures.

We had a few hours between the ceremony and reception so I changed out of the dress back at the hotel, and Jeff and I went on a search for a sewing kit. No one seemed to have any. Finally we found a dry cleaner. “Do you have a sewing kit we can buy? Or can you fix this dress really quickly?” The nice lady had nothing at her store to help us, but then remembered her personal sewing kit in her purse. She graciously gave it to us. Jeff sewed my dress back at the hotel (I have no sewing skills) and we were off to the reception.

The reception was fun. But the recently-divorced DJ drank too much, and let everyone make a speech. As he held the microphone out for me, I looked at my cousin thinking “Are you sure you want me to do this? I have a lot of embarrassing stories about you I could share.” He gave me the go-ahead-nod, so I did share one embarrassing story but that’ll have to wait for another blog post.

It was a wonderful, memorable wedding. Happy (almost) 15 years Erik & Mandy!

What Will You Do With Grief?

My husband, Jeff, and I with baby Caleb. February 24, 2011

Tomorrow, February 24, 2021, will mark 10 years since our first baby was born and died. By the time we realized something was wrong with the pregnancy, I was already in labor but only about 20 weeks along. We had a few brief hours to prepare our hearts for the fact that our baby would not survive. Even if you had days, weeks, or months, nothing can truly prepare you for the loss of your child.

In the days that followed Caleb’s death, the question became what will I do with my grief? I had no choice in the life or death of my son. But I did have a choice with grief. Would I let it consume and overwhelm me, bringing me to a place of negativity, fear, and solitude? Or would I find a way to let grief motivate me to be more compassionate, to find the good despite the sadness, and to find joy in what I have been given?

Through God’s grace, I chose the latter. I’ve shared Caleb’s story countless times, writing about him here, talking about him at Bible studies, retreats, and fundraising dinners. I have sat with friends, or friends of friends, who have faced similar losses and we have grieved together. I found a ministry that I didn’t know existed or was needed until I was thrown into it. Just last week a friend texted, “Help! My friend just lost her baby. What do I do?” Although I hate that anyone has to go through the loss of a child, I am glad that I can help in some small way. For me, being able to help others is what continues to give Caleb’s short life meaning and purpose.

Parker (5) and Jack (8)

Now I have two boys, ages eight and five, who certainly keep me busy and entertained. I often post pictures of our adventures on social media. Sometimes people will comment that I’m a good mom. While I appreciate the compliment, I try to point out that I only post the good stuff 😉 But, if I’m being honest and a little less humble, I am a good mom. It isn’t so much about the fun vacations we take our kids on, or the gifts we buy them. I’m a good mom because I play with my children. I’m involved in their lives everyday. I have many friends who’s kids play mostly on their own, and that’s great! But for me, I know what it’s like to want to play with my son and not be able to. I know what its like when grief steals your dreams. That same grief motivates me to enjoy the life I have, the ability to play with my children, to make normal life feel like an adventure for them.

I have a few friends who have faced significant loss in their lives. The few I am thinking of each lost a sibling. Those friends are the ones that comment on Facebook, send cards of remembrance, and are the first to try to comfort others who are grieving. They know the pain of grief and it has motivated them to be compassionate to others.

Unfortunately, we will all face grief in our lifetimes in some manner. How will grief transform you? I definitely have moments and days (like today actually), where I just want to sleep and cry and not play with my children. But more often, I can choose to find joy despite the sadness, to share comfort with others who are grieving, and to enjoy the life God has given me.

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14

Prepare The Turtle Formation

Nine years ago today, I laid in a hospital bed unprepared for the news I would hear. “You have to deliver the baby today but he won’t survive.” Incompatible with life. Just a couple more weeks in the womb and the story would be so different.

We held our baby Caleb, remarking on his long fingers and fingernails, and how he had his daddy’s nose. While our eyes filled with tears we knew he was home in heaven. In those moments I learned the depth of a mother’s love and the depth of a mother’s pain.


The days and weeks and months that followed brought grief, yet hope, sadness, yet trust in God, heartache, yet faith. I had family and friends who surrounded me in prayer, hope and support. It’s called a Turtle Formation.


In Bible times, when Roman soldiers were under attack they would come together with their shields – as big as doors – and huddle inside with the shields facing out. The formation looked like the shell of a turtle. Each shield was so big it would cover one soldier plus the gaps on the sides between soldiers. The enemy would hurl flaming arrows, but the shields would extinguish them.


Ephesians 6:16 tells us that God gives us armor. “Take up your shields of faith with which to extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy.”

On days like this I remember Caleb, nine years in heaven. I remember the sadness I felt. I remember leaning against the tree by his grave praying God would bring him back to life. I remember crying in the grocery store. I remember discovering that Kleenex shreds into pieces on my tear-stained cheeks. And I remember the faith-filled friends who stood by me.


Every comment on Facebook, every heart emoji, every text, every card, every phone call – they extinguish those fiery darts the enemy throws trying to make me question and doubt. Friends, your words have helped me stand firm taking up my shield of faith. I thank God for you!


Do you have friends like that? Do you have friends who hold up their shields of faith to protect you when you are hurting? When you face struggles and temptations, do you have friends to call? I hope you never need them. But I know that isn’t reality. We all need people to stand with us in faith when our faith is tested.


Be the friend who calls, who remembers, who cares. Take up your shield of faith and know that God is good, He is faithful, and you can trust Him.

The Gifts of God

At Christmas time we focus a lot on gifts. Making gift lists, buying gifts, wrapping gifts, receiving gifts. I wonder if you’ve ever had a time when you opened a gift you didn’t want. As you pull it out of the box you’re thinking, I don’t like this color or pattern. But the person who gave it to you is watching so you put on a fake smile and say “thank you so much …” Meanwhile you’re still looking for a gift receipt. At least you could exchange it…? But no. Your only option is to accept the gift. 

Have you ever had to accept something in life you didn’t want? Illness, job loss, miscarriage, infertility, divorce, death of a loved one.

About 9 years ago my husband and I were expecting our first child. But halfway through the pregnancy something was wrong. I was rushed to the hospital where the doctors told me I had to deliver the baby that night, but that he wouldn’t survive. A range of emotions and thoughts filled our minds over the next few hours as we waited for labor to intensify. But our main focus was, we didn’t have a name for this baby. What do you name a baby who will go straight to heaven?

There was one Bible story that kept coming to mind. It’s the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. They had miraculously left Egypt, survived the plagues that God sent to Pharaoh and the people, they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground as God parted the waters.. and now they’re in the desert. They were on their way to the Promised Land. It’s called “the Promised Land” because God promised to give this land to the Israelites. That simple.

Moses decides to send 12 men into the promised land to spy on it, to check it out and report back to the people what they find. These 12 men come back and say the land is amazing. It’s exactly how God promised – flowing with milk and honey, filled with the best fruits. BUT 10 men said there are giants living there. And we can’t beat them. The other 2 men said yes there are giants, but God is giving us this land. Let’s go! Those two men were Joshua and Caleb. Unfortunately the Israelites caved in to the fear that the 10 men had. They were afraid of the giants. They didn’t believe God’s promise. They doubted God. And so God said that those people would not see the promised land. The entire generation would die, except for Joshua and Caleb.

They roamed around the wilderness, the desert for 40 years, waiting for that generation of Israelites to die. Then Joshua and Caleb, now in their 80s would lead the people into the promised land.

What does this story have to do with a baby? I knew there were going to be “giants” in my future. There would be fears about having children, trying to get pregnant again, losing more children. I did not want to live in fear.  So I said to my husband, how about we name the baby Joshua? He said there was a Josh in kindergarten who punched him in the nose. So how about Caleb?

Naming our baby Caleb was a reminder – is still a reminder – to me to not give in to fear and worry, but to stand firm in God’s promises. God didn’t promise me a baby. But there are 3 promises I want to share with you today that we can depend on 3 GIFTS God gives us. 

First, God promises to be with us. Immanuel – God is with us. Hebrews 13:5 God says “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” When a friend betrays you, when those who are supposed to love us walk away, when the world leaves us lonely, God will NEVER leave us. When you are walking through sadness, grief, despair, God is with you.  Matthew. 1:23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means God with us.”

Second, God promises to give us PEACE. We live in a world where anxiety is a common word, a common ailment. You can get a prescription to fix your anxiety. And certainly there are a lot of things we can be worried and anxious about, IF we didn’t have God to call out to. Philippians 4 tells us that PRAYER is the antidote to worry. Verses 6-8 says “Do not be ANXIOUS about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Can you even imagine your heart and mind being so guarded, so protected by peace in Christ, that no worries, no anxious thoughts can even get in?!

The peace from God doesn’t make sense. Not by any worldly standards. When Caleb died, I was grieving deeply. Yet I had peace. When I got pregnant again months later, I should’ve been afraid and worried. But I wasn’t. God had given me peace that is beyond our understanding. He wants us to live in that peace. When we bring our worries to Him and we pray, He will give us Peace.

The third gift God gives is the promise of JOY. True joy does not depend on circumstances but on the presence of the Lord with us. This joy is not a continuous smile but a satisfaction in what the Lord has done and in his presence with us. Jeremiah 31:13 God says “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” There are a lot of verses about God turning our sorrow into joy. Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes with the morning. And I read all of them after Caleb died. But I didn’t understand it. How is God going to turn this despair into joy? There’s never going to be a time where I am happy that my baby died, but there is a joyful contentment that God is in control. I’m thankful for the two boys I have at home, but neither of them replaced Caleb. You can’t create joy. Getting married won’t bring you joy. Getting divorced won’t bring you joy either. Your kids getting to a certain age won’t bring joy. Your bank account getting to a certain number won’t bring joy. A job promotion, a retirement, a cure… it won’t bring joy. It might bring happiness, but that’s not permanent. 

Joy isn’t based on our circumstances. In fact, joy is mixed in with the other gifts God gives us. Joy and Peace are BECAUSE we have Immanuel. Because God is WITH us we can have JOY in any circumstance. Because He is a God who is faithful, who is good, whose love for us is beyond compare. We can trust Him. Because He is a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins so that we who believe in Him can have eternal life.

Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Are you longing for the peace and joy that only He can give? Do you want God with you? Then you just have to tell Him. If you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead you will be saved (Romans 10:9). You will have Immanuel – God with you. You will have Peace that passes understanding. You will have Joy instead of sorrow. 

These gifts from God are for you. You just need to accept them.

Getting Old and Staying Young

A few weeks ago I celebrated my 38th birthday. Just saying 38 sounds old. It doesn’t seem like too long ago that I was waking up late and rushing to catch the bus to high school. Or waking up late and rushing to class in college. Now I wake up late and rush to get my kids to school. I’m sensing a pattern. Seriously though, I’m in that stage where people just say “30s” or the 15th anniversary of their 21st birthday. Why do we hide our age? What are we so ashamed of?

Most of the time I don’t “feel” 38. I walk around thinking I’m 20-something until I actually see a 20-something and they look so childlike. I’m reminded of my age when I look closely in the mirror and see wrinkles on my face, or a few gray hairs on my head (I blame Parker for that… they started to appear when he was born). I’m reminded of my age when my friends and I play co-ed indoor soccer against the recently graduated college soccer stars. Or maybe they haven’t even graduated yet. While admiring their impressive skills and high energy, our taunts turn to “It’s past your bedtime!” Or “Don’t you have to get back to the dorm and study for finals.” Or “Your mom just called and you missed curfew!” We may not have won the game, but we did make them laugh.

I’ve always felt like the young one. Maybe because I have two older siblings and I was often too young to stay up and play with them at night. I have a fall birthday, which during school years always made me one of the youngest in my class. My husband is the same age as me (he’s a few months older!). Most of my friends are within a couple years of me, give or take. So I’m not ashamed of my age. Or at least, I’m going to try never to hide my age.

Every day is a gift. We are reminded of this when we hear of someone who died young, or when we have a friend battling cancer while she parents her young children. Each day is a gift. Each day of my 38 years has been a gift. I haven’t always felt like that at the time. Certainly not every day has felt good. But every day is filled with the hope of blessings more amazing that I could imagine.

The next time your age comes up, I hope you will proudly declare the truth, gratefully acknowledging the blessing of each day.

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

When Your Childhood House Gets Torn Down

Today my childhood home got destroyed. I say “childhood” but I spent many adult years there as well. My parents lived in this house for 43 years. When they sold the house six months ago, we knew today would come. My mom, one of my sisters and I stood there watching a front loader tear down our house room by room, and we cried. “It’s only a house,” we kept saying. But it was filled with so many memories.

When I was born, my parents added the entire second floor. I’m not sure what they were thinking doing such a huge construction project with a 10 year old, 5 year old, and newborn! I suppose because of me they needed more space. I slept through the construction. I napped right through the hammering and sawing and construction process. Which of course, has made me such a great sleeper. I can sleep through anything now – including my children calling out during the night, so my husband is probably less thankful about that!

My Dad helped with much of the construction, preparing drywall, building closets. Dad had a workshop in the basement and the garage. He fixed anything that was broken. He built a playhouse for me in the backyard that was still standing after 31 years. He also built the famous “Bope Wall of Fame” a giant bulletin board in the kitchen where Mom would put pictures. My friends always cheered when they made it onto the wall.

Friends and family were always welcome at our house. Mom frequently hosted holiday family parties. I remember my great uncle playing the piano, Nana and Granddad singing, Nintendo marathons with cousins. When family visited from out of town, they always stayed with us. We’d sneak into each other’s rooms at night to chat until Mom would come in with her trusty flashlight and threaten to separate us. For many years we had a party on Christmas Eve after church. One year my brother-in-law proposed to my sister in the family room. Of course my cousin Erik and I were young so we were spying on them until my dad told us to leave them alone.

Many boyfriends were interrogated in that living room. Some by my dad, but he had loosened up a bit by the time I started dating, which my sisters thought was very unfair. So they made sure to be at the house when I had a date. They can be pretty intimidating when they aren’t making each other laugh hysterically.

I lived in every bedroom, except the master. When a sibling would go to college, we all rotated rooms. In high school I painted my room an off-white color which I remember was made by Ralph Lauren, which seemed very fitting considering I wore a lot of polos in high school. When my brother took that room, he painted it poop brown (insert eye roll). After college, I lived in Wisconsin for three years and then moved back home while I was dating Jeff before we got married. I don’t even remember asking if I could move back home. My parents never cared about being empty nesters. They loved being surrounded by family and willingly opened their home. In fact they even agreed to let my best friend live with us senior year of high school while her family moved to California, but her parents didn’t go for it.

So many Christmas memories… our tree falling on my sister (she was ok) and henceforth had to be tied to the stair railing; sitting on the stairs with my sister on Christmas Eve spying on my parents as they put together a pool table for us; being brave with my cousin as we investigated the old closets in the basement and discovered my mom’s hiding spot for Christmas gifts! Waiting upstairs on Christmas morning until Dad has the giant video camera set up to record; sledding down the neighbor’s hill next to our house; building a ramp off the deck stairs to sled in the backyard.

There were basketball games on the driveway, soccer and badminton in the backyard. My brother and I were both brought home from the hospital to that house. All the grandchildren loved to play there, many had special sleepover trips to Grammy & Granddad’s. It was the hangout house for my friends, often because we had the best snacks. Parties on the deck which may have included a strobe light and boom box. Capture the flag games in the dark, wearing camouflage (as teenagers). Even as adults with our own houses, somehow we’d still find ourselves at the Bope house.

Our beloved house was torn down in less than an hour. It was a pile of wood and bricks and walls trampled under the tracks of a bulldozer. But nothing can tear down the love. The only special thing about that house was the Love that filled it.

My parents moved six months ago and their new house feels like home. Even though I haven’t lived there, I still feel at home. What makes it special: Love. Mom and Dad love people well. They share God’s love and they share what He has given them. A house is just a set of walls and rooms. But a home is Love.

A Piece of Me

For 8 years, a piece of my heart has been missing. When my first son Caleb was born, 8 years ago today, he went straight to heaven. We held his tiny body. 10 fingers, 10 toes. Daddy’s nose. Eye lashes, finger nails. (Lord may I humbly suggest you work on the vital organs and lungs before nails and eyelashes.) Caleb was born prematurely and wouldn’t live on this earth.

The joy of being a new mom immediately replaced with the sorrow of losing a child. He never called me Mommy or told me he loved me. But the day he was born my heart grew so much. I loved Caleb more than I ever knew I could love anyone! Saying goodbye at his grave I buried a piece of my heart. A big piece.

In the years that followed, Jeff and I had two more sons Jack (6) and Parker (3). Some people say things like “sorry for Caleb’s loss BUT at least you have Jack and Parker.” I understand what they mean and their good intentions. But there is no BUT. I have sorrow and grief about Caleb’s death and no other child can replace him or fix the grief. At first I thought it would.

When Jack was born, I thought now I have my boy. But it was different. There should have been two boys. Then we had Parker and I had my two boys. But there should be three. Sometimes I’ll buy matching clothes for Jack and Parker and have this longing to buy a third set. There should be three.

Chasing Jack and Parker around certainly fills my time and brings me joy. But my heart will always be split. My heart and ability to love has grown exponentially with each child, more than I ever thought possible. But a piece of my heart will always be in heaven with Caleb until one day we are reunited.

Until then I rest in the knowledge that God is good, faithful, and trustworthy. He is near to the broken-hearted. He sees every tear I cry. He gives me peace that passes all understanding. Thank You Lord.

Happy 8th Birthday Caleb!

Saying Goodbye

kathleen-2
Yesterday we went to the memorial service for my neighbor, Kathleen. She was a kind, cheerful woman, always smiling. We would chat over the fence about gardens and landscaping. She would hire Jack to pull weeds because he was trying to earn money for something, but then of course, she had to sit with him and teach him which things were weeds. Kathleen was a loving person, thinking of others even when she was facing trials of her own.

My neighbor is actually Renee, Kathleen’s mom. A few years ago Kathleen moved in with her mom in case the 80-something year old ever needed help or someone to care for her. But Renee had raised a dozen children, mostly on her own, so she rarely needs help from others. Kathleen was the oldest of the family. I asked her how she was doing living with her mom. She said “It’s wonderful! I’ve been waiting my whole life for one-on-one time with mom!” She always had a way of looking on the positive side of things.

But instead of daughter taking care of mom, it turned out that Kathleen got cancer and her mom was taking care of her. She battled for several months before being diagnosed as terminal. Still she remained joyful.

Psalm 139 says “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. … For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (verses 7-16).

When things don’t go as we planned, we can take comfort from these verses. We can trust that first, God is faithful. He will never leave us. Even when we try to get away from Him, He is still there to hold us and guide us. Second, the Lord loves us. He created us. He wants to be with us. The Psalm goes on to say that His thoughts about us are precious. God LOVES us! Third, we can trust that God is good. We may not understand His plans, we may doubt there are plans at all. But His word says He planned all of our days before we were even born (Psalm 139:16). No one dies “too soon.” Surely they die sooner than we wanted. But God had all of these days planned. There’s nothing we could have done to lengthen their life.

img_4001When you find things not going as you expected – when not if, because I’m pretty sure a time will come – I hope you cling to these same truths. God is faithful. God loves you. God is good. May you find peace in knowing your Creator is with you. And like Kathleen, may you find joy no matter the circumstances.

Crazy Vacation Stories: Mexico Edition

When Jack was two years old, we took him to Mexico for a beach + adventure trip. Sitting on a beach is my ideal vacation. But Jeff needs almost constant activity, so we had a variety of things planned that made both of us happy. And Jack was along for the ride.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jack is asleep in this picture, hence why Jeff is stabilizing his head.

First up, swimming with whale sharks. Not quite as dangerous as it sounds, since they only eat plankton, but they are the size of school buses. When I booked the whale shark tour from home, they said no children were allowed. But since we offered to pay for him, and convinced the tour company Jack would be no problem, they agreed.

Next I asked our pediatrician what to do to avoid Jack getting seasick. He suggested a small dose of Benadryl before we get on the boat. Sounds easy enough.

We boarded the boat and the benadry knocked Jack out. He sat asleep on Jeff’s lap while the boat motored out to find some whale sharks. The idea is that once you find a whale shark, two people at a time get in the water and swim with it for a few minutes. Also, since whale sharks are wild animals and unpredictable, this all happens quickly.

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Whale Shark = Size of a School Bus

Finally we find a whale shark and Jeff and I are up first. The boat captain picks up Jack, who is still sleeping, and hands him to another female passenger. I tried to protest that Jeff and I go separately so one of us is with Jack, but the boat captain assured me Jack would be fine because “she’s a lady. She take care of baby.” Oh, that settles it. I hollered to her “his name is Jack” and jumped into the water.

Jeff and I got our three minutes with the whale shark, and got back on the boat as two other girls jumped in. Then the whale sharks were gone. You were supposed to see many of them while they’re migrating so that all the passengers had a turn to swim with them. But since they disappeared, we drove around in the boat searching for more whale sharks.

Hours passed. Then the boat ran out of gas. We are floating in the middle of the ocean. [This is a true story.] Eventually another boat pulls up and takes the passengers from our boat who hadn’t swam with the whale sharks yet. That leaves the two boat captains, two Australian girls, Jeff, Jack, and me. Floating in the ocean.

Another boat pulls up and begins towing us back to shore. By this point in the trip, Jack’s Benadryl has definitely worn off and we’ve run out of ways to entertain him on a small boat. To make it worse, the bobbing up and down over high waves mixed with the exhaust fumes of the boat towing us, is causing Jeff and I to feel seasick.

We are both laying down while half watching Jack who is eating some raisins. Nothing quite wakes you up and removes your seasickness like hearing your husband say to the toddler, “Did you just put a raisin in your nose?!”

The obedient, well-behaved child, who has never even thought of putting anything in his nose, chose this time to try it. We are being s l o w l y towed back to land, but no land is in sight at this point. We ask the captains for a first aid kit, hoping there would be some tweezers. How do you say tweezers in Spanish? They ask if we need a bandaid. Umm no.

Next the Australian girls in their 20s. One has nothing with her. The other digs around her purse and at the very bottom, where you have crumbs and old hair bands and gum wrappers, finds a paper clip. “Do you want this?”

A quick look at our circumstances reveals no better options. Jeff straightens out part of the paper clip, intending to stab the raisin. I hold Jack’s head still… although the boat is bobbing in the middle of the ocean… Jeff goes for it and thankfully we successfully remove the raisin. (Cue the choirs of angels)

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Here is an example of watching Jack closely 🙂

We certainly could have had a dire medical situation on our hands, especially considering it still took us hours to get back to shore. The rest of the boat ride is a bit of a blur. I’m pretty sure we didn’t take our eyes off of Jack and gave him no small objects. Needless to say he learned his lesson.

As for the boat running out of gas, and the tour taking twice as long as planned, I think we got a small refund. At least we had our three minutes with the whale sharks.